Monster Jam revs up this weekend in Sunrise

Grave Digger flies high.

Next time you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic, panicking because you have less than 10 minutes to get to an important meeting, or to your child’s first piano recital, imagine revving up your six-ton truck with 66-inch tires and simply flattening everyone and everything in your path on your way to sweet freedom.

Therapeutic to think of? Well, you can feel the vicarious joy of vehicular violence at the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam, which rolls into Sunrise’s BB&T Center this weekend for three shows, featuring six of the best monster trucks in the world, including Grave Digger, Monster Mutt, Max D and more.

These mechanical behemoths are 12 feet tall, 12 feet wide and can jump 130 feet (clearing 14 cars) and soar 35 feet high, and will duke it out in drag races, freestyle tricks and general smash-‘em-up mayhem. Basically, it’s a bunch of men (and sometimes women) living a boyhood fantasy.

“It’s gotta be by far the most amazing motor sport there is,” says Neil Elliott, who for the past 14 years has been driving the Max D truck, which stands, naturally, for Maximum Destruction. “It’s a combination of drag-racing and jumping – it’s a mix of everything. I don’t know what young person out there – or anybody, no matter what age they are – that doesn’t like to be a show-off.”

The anything-goes excitement of the racing series attracts more than four million spectators per year.

“It’s a pretty wild show, action-packed and high-flying,” says Gary Potter, a 28-year vet who has been driving one of the many world-famous Grave Digger trucks for 12 years. “It’s a little small venue [in Sunrise], but that’s not gonna keep us from doing what monsters do, and that’s crush cars, fly high, do high-spinning donuts and try to put a smile on every fan’s face.”

For all the thrills and spills, crashing and crushing, the sport is surprisingly safe, because the drivers wear five-point harnesses, head and neck stabilizers and have custom seats built to fit their bodies perfectly.

“Safety has come a long way just in the 14 years that I’ve been driving trucks,” says Elliott. “You’re safer in a monster truck than you are driving down the highway. I went to do a back flip about two years ago in Las Vegas, and it went all the way around, but it twisted, and I landed flat upside down from about 25 feet in the air. And I got out of there like it was another day of work.”

Potter has had only one significant injury, and that can be blamed on unfamiliar equipment.

“One time, two years ago up in Philadelphia, I was driving a different truck, and I didn’t have my seat that was built for me,” he says. “And I made a jump and cracked my sternum. Nothing major – it took a little time to heal, but nothing major in all these years.”

At every show, Potter feels the pressure of living up to the Grave Digger name as he drives the most celebrated monster truck of all time, saying there’s definitely a target on his back.

“Everybody’s out to beat Grave Digger, especially Max D,” he says. “They’re all awesome competitors and super guys off the track, but on the track they have one mission in mind, and that is to put Grave Digger in his grave.”

You might think that as heated as the competition can get, the rivalries might turn bitter. But once the event ends, there’s no bad blood between drivers.

“It’s just like every racing sport there is,” says Elliott. “Everybody wants to be the winner. When we put the helmets on, we’re out there to race, but once the helmets are off, we’re all friends, and we’d do anything to help another competitor make the show. If we don’t help each other, we don’t have fans, and then I’m out of a really cool job.”